Strengthen Your Gut Health for a Healthy Immune System
A robust immune system doubles as a preventive shield against viral infections. Here’s how to bolster it.
As the world continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve been told time and again to mask up and wash our hands regularly. While these preventive measures are certainly well and good, to keep viral infections at bay, taking steps to boost your immunity is equally important.
Indeed, not everyone exposed to the virus will be infected. Those with poorer immune systems, such as the elderly or individuals with underlying health conditions, are more susceptible to falling ill.
What accounts for the variations in immune systems? Why do the immune systems of individuals react differently to viral infections or vaccines? To answer this question, we have to first understand how the immune system works.
The immune system comprises organs such as the spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and bone marrow, all of which are key to the production of leucocytes and lymphocytes – cells that perform the immune function. The gut, in particular, plays a vital role in the immune process. It is home to tens of millions of microscopic organisms or microbes, and about 70 per cent of the cells that perform the immune function reside in the gut itself.
The gut barrier is not only lined with immune cells, but also depends on the microbiota living in the gut to maintain the integrity of the barrier, and this is where the adage ‘you are what you eat’ rings true. What you choose to consume will also be the very same morsels that feed the trillions of bacteria living in your gut.
4 ways to strengthen and maintain gut health
1. Eat a wide variety of vegetables
A diverse community of microbes – each preferring different foods – help to maintain a healthy gut. Research has shown that a plant-based diet promotes the development of diverse and stable microbial systems.
2. Increase your fibre intake
Fruit, nuts, pulses such as chickpeas or butter beans, whole grains, and vegetables feed healthy bacteria.
3. Complement your diet with probiotic foods
Probiotics are foods that contain live bacteria thought to be beneficial for gut health. As such, live yoghurt or fermented foods such as kombucha might encourage the growth of healthy microbes.
4. Choose extra-virgin olive oil over other oils
Not only does it contain modest amounts of vitamins E and K, it also harbours the highest number of microbe-friendly polyphenols.
Foods to avoid
Sugar and preservatives found in processed foods disrupt the gut barrier and prevent it from functioning properly. Do your best to resist that tub of ice cream or bag of potato chips while you Netflix and chill. Instead, turn to fruit – which are not only naturally sweet, but contain finer and antioxidants – or freshly churned nut butters with no added sugars.
Unable to access fresh produce?
If you have trouble buying fresh produce during these times, consider purchasing frozen produce over canned foods. Most online grocers should carry a range of frozen broccoli, peas, carrots, and brussel sprouts. On the nutrition front, frozen vegetables or fruit are not necessarily inferior to their fresh counterparts, especially those that are harvested when perfectly ripe and flash frozen to maintain its nutrients and flavours.